Torrent of unwanted cold calls and texts none of us can block
People are being tortured by millions of nuisance cold calls and texts every year - and no one appears to know how to stop them.
A snap survey by the Belfast Telegraph suggested that Northern Ireland consumers are getting around two such communications a day.
The latest figures from the regulator Ofcom show it received 61,500 complaints in the last six months alone - and a staggering 175,000 in 2014. Only around 2% of people affected even lodge a complaint, according to Consumer group Which?, so it's likely that there have been some three million recipients of irritating calls in the UK since the Government set up a taskforce last December.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said the cold calling business was "the dirty trade in people's personal details".
Meanwhile, Which? boss Richard Lloyd said the problem needed to be addressed.
"People are sick of being bombarded with nuisance calls that invade their privacy and waste their time," he said.
Eddie Lynch, chief executive of Northern Ireland's Age Sector Platform, said such calls must stop. "Cold calls are a nuisance for everyone, but they're particularly distressing for older people, who spend more time at home and depend on phone calls from family, friends and carers," he said.
A study for uSwitch last year found that nine out of 10 landline users were subject to cold calls - even though they had signed up to services to block them - while one in 10 got daily nuisance calls.
Eight out of 10 smartphone owners said they too were plagued by calls, with two-thirds also plagued by spam text messages.
Complaints included payment protection insurance (PPI), accident claims, debt and lifestyle surveys.
Consumers are advised not call back phone numbers left on voicemail, or reply to text messages you don't recognise.
Fighting back against the phone pests
1.Register for free with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS): Call 0845 0700707.
UK-based firms are not allowed to make unsolicited sales and marketing calls to TPS-registered phone numbers. This applies to overseas call centres too.
2. Go ex-directory
Some companies may use online or paper phone books to find target numbers. If you're not in the directory, they can't track you down.
3. Screen your calls
It won't stop a call in the first place, but you don't need to answer a call from the same number.
4. Avoid sales call lists.
Data-protection laws ban companies from calling you for marketing purposes if you've asked them not to, even if you are a customer. The best way is to carefully tick, or untick, the box in which you agree to opt in or out of direct marketing.
5. Remove yourself from lists
If you receive a cold call you can ask the person at the other end of the line to delete your details from their records.
6. Check the caller's number
The best way from a landline is by dialling 1471 after the call. If you have caller display on your handset, make a note of the number and pass on the details to Ofcom.
7. Set up call barring
Most unlicensed cold calls come from abroad so it's possible to ask your phone operator to block calls from international numbers. You can also request calls from withheld numbers to be blocked.
8. Report it
If you still get nuisance calls 28 days after contacting the TPS, report it online via tinyurl.com/report-tps or by calling 0845 0700707.
Bill Carson (80)
A retired businessman from Randalstown. He says:
"I get at least one cold call a day, but mostly it's two or three. It started happening after I took part in a lifestyle survey. It's a source of amusement for me because I have fun with the callers."
Caroline McKeown (67)
A former nurse from Carrickfergus. She says:
"I detest cold calling. I try to block the callers but they keep coming back. I'm getting four or five a day. My husband Ivor works so I'm on my own at home and I find them very intrusive. I often hang up on the callers."